5 Tenets of Choice

I have long believed in putting the “person” back in personalized learning.  In creating engaging classroom experiences with our students as we try to help them discover how they learn best and what they still need to grow in.  However working in the public school system in a state that has mandates and tests to take, means that we sometimes cannot just do whatever we want as we explore 7th grade English.  Means that I am not always able to tell my students to create whatever they want and make it work within our standards.  Means that sometimes we all do the same lesson or produce a similar outcome.  Even if I work in a district that is focused on doing what is best for each child and puts immense trust in its teachers.  Even if at my core I believe that children need to feel like they have control in their learning experience so that they will invest themselves.  And I think this is the reality for many teachers that are trying to do their best in engaging all of their learners.  So how do we truly create experiences where students feel empowered and engaged and have choice, even when it is not free rein at all times?

One of the foundations in our classroom is the five tenets of choice.  These ideas by themselves are the foundation for many successful educational experiences, these ideas have been around for a long time, and these ideas, when coupled together, mean that my students always have choice in something, even if it is not apparent at a quick glance.  While the optimal experience would be for them to have all of these choices at any time, sometimes this is not possible within the system I work.  So, instead, I strive for at least two of these, but preferably more, at any given time.

This tiny excerpt from my forthcoming book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Engaging and Reaching Every Child, details the five tenets of choice, hopefully they will be of help to others as well.

1st Tenet

Choice in engagement, meaning how they access the learning; do they need small group instruction, one-on-one conferring, are they independent or want to work with a peer?  I have students do a pre-assessment of how they would like to work through a project and then plan my classes according to their needs.  To see a sample pre-assessment survey, please see the appendix.   

2nd Tenet

Choice in product, meaning what would they like to create to show their understanding and exploration of a concept.  Sometimes this means full control of the product depending on the standards we are working with, while other times it only means minimal choice such as the format of their written work.   

3rd Tenet

Choice in setting, meaning how and where would they like to learn.  As discussed previously, students need to be afforded opportunities to manipulate the learning community environment to suit their needs.  This is part of their learning journey and so students can choose where they sit, how they sit, whether they work in the learning community or in other designated areas, as well as how they use the environment they are working in.   

4th Tenet

Choice in timeline, meaning when they are ready to be assessed.  While this one is harder to do at times, I do try to provide flexible timelines for students, as well as stay in tuned with what else is happening in other classes.  This may mean that for a longer project I will tell students what the final day is for them to turn something in but that they can turn it in any time they are ready before then.   

5th Tenet

Choice in assessment, meaning how and what I assess as far as their mastery of concepts.  Inspired by Kelly Gallagher I will often ask students to turn in the piece that they think showcase their depth of understanding the best and then assess and confer with them regarding this one piece of work.  This allows students more flexibility and control over how they are assessed, as well as gives them the opportunity to reflect on what mastery really means.  This tenet also means that once students have shown mastery for a quarter, they do not have to prove it to me again but can instead move on to more challenging work.  This is a way for me to ensure that students are provided with learning that matches their needs better and also allows them for more self-directed learning.  

If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 .   Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

A Better Way to Write Fiction Stories

We have been immersed in fiction writing for the past three weeks.  I have been amazed at the focus of my students, at the need for creation,and also their creativity.  As always, the plans I started with now look nothing like the plans we had, and so I thought it only fair to share what writing fiction in 7th grade English has looked like for the past three weeks and what I have learned and remembered.

Create Something

I knew that I did not need them to create the same product, after all, my standards assessed involve organization, word choice, conventions, and plot.  Nowhere does it say that they must write a certain story, but instead I asked them to create something that would allow me to assess these things .  I have been enthralled with their creativity process; yes, many students gravitated toward a written story with a neat beginning, middle, end, but others stretched their legs writing Minecraft fan fiction, movie scripts, picture books and even choose your own adventures.  I have students co-creating stories from opposite perspectives, I have students writing free verse (it is harder than it looks).  I have tales from their own lives and ones they have invented with made up words of their own.  Because it has been their story, their way, they have wanted to work on it every day, excited to share it with others.

Few Lessons

I have spent most evenings leaving feedback to students, thank you Google Classroom for making my life easy.  I have spent most class periods meeting with students asking them to tell me what I should look at when I read their work and then helping them from where they are.  I have gathered information on lessons needed and tried to support each child on their own writing journey, with the help of the support teachers I sometimes have.  Always trying to move students one step further and helping them think about what they need next, rather than a broad lesson that could apply to all.  The few whole class lessons we have had have been brief and centered around reminders on paragraphing, dialogue, and consistent verb tenses.

Speak Up

I have asked the students to please speak to one another, to please share their stories, to find those they want to write with and use each other as I use my own writing friends.  I started with putting them into writing trio groups but since abandoned the idea, realizing that the stilted conversations they were having would never get them much further and instead asking them to find someone that will not only read their work, but also be honest in their criticism.  This is still a work in progress, but I have seen the improvements, I have seen the growth and know there is something there.

Best Draft

I have asked them for their best draft, not their final version, and I owe so much to Kelly Gallagher for this wording.  Gone is the anxiety over perfection.  Gone is the notion that they must reach an unachievable goal as they hurtle toward the end.  Instead they work diligently, trying to get it to the best of their abilities before they turn it over to me.  Before they turn it over for more feedback that will ultimately push their story even further.  They know the process is not done just because they hand it in today, because the project is called best draft, even though in reality, many of them have handed in amazing stories that need little more work.

Use the Space

I have asked them to please find out how they write best within the environment we have.  How they best can support their own writing process, how they can use the classroom in a way that helps them better focus and find their flow.  Kids have been in corners, moved tables, on bean bags and in the team area.  We have had music, gum, and conversation.  For some we have had headphones for quiet and spaces to concentrate.  Each child is now a step closer to knowing how they write best, even within the confinements of a typical English classroom.

Find the Experts

For the past three months we have reached out to those who have walked the path before us; the authors that inspire us to write better.  Using Skype we have asked amazing authors whose books delight us what their writing process is and how they edit.  Every class has had different conversations but they have all centered around the same thing; find your own way, there is no right way for all, just a right way for you.  Hearing it from the mouths of those whose books inspire us will always amplify the message we already teach; writing needs t be a part of you so find your way of writing.

So now what?  We rest a little.  We change our focus as our stories simmer in our minds and then in a about a week we return.  Once the dust has settled, we look at the feedback we have received and we try to make it better.  We speak of revision as if it is just one step but I know from my own writing experience that revising is ongoing, editing is hard, and that it sometimes means stepping away only to come back later.  I still have much to learn as a 7th grade English teacher, I still have much to figure out, but this process?  It made a difference in the last three weeks.  Who knows how they will grow as writers next?

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum.    So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

How to Create Empowered Readers – A Beginning

The sniffles started almost immediately.  Small choking noises came soon.  Then full out wails, tears, and gasps.  Theadora, our oldest daughter, was a mess as we drove home from Chicago today.  What had caused this sudden crying?  The end of Harry Potter Book seven.  The end of our 9 month journey accompanied by the ever amazing Jim Dale and the audio books of Harry Potter.  I was wistful myself to tell you the truth.  As I tried to console our distraught daughter,  I couldn’t help but feel slightly pleased, after all, isn’t this exactly the type of relationship that we hope our children, our students, have with books?  One that makes you want to cry, or laugh, or scream in frustration?  One that allows you to feel so intimately attached to something not created by yourself?  To feel the gratitude of brilliant writing and a long journey along with an author’s imagination?  To feel the loss of characters and of story as a book series finishes?

Yet, how many of our students have never experienced this type of sadness?  How many of our students have not experienced what is means to complete a series that one has become so invested in that it feels like the loss of a family member once the last page has been read?  How many years has it been for some, if at all, since they truly loved a book?  While we cannot change the past, we do have control over the now, over what happens in our classrooms. Over what happens from the moment they enter to the moment they leave.  And with that power comes an immense responsibility to empower our students, to offer them a chance at an incredible relationship with reading once again or for the very first time.  While it may start with having them choose their own books, this is not the only place students need more control to be empowered and passionate readers.

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Book choice.  This fundamental right to choose what you read is one that is so often taken away from our students because we want to help them develop as readers.   Yet when a child is not a  allowed to choose the very text they are asked to engage with, we give them little room for an emotional attachment.  How many of us adults will willingly invest in something we have been told to read?  So while we can expose and recommend, we must create classrooms where student choice is the norm, not the exception.  Where we help students find that next great book in order for them to become independent book selectors so that they can leave our classrooms knowing that they do not need us.  Not in the same way as they did in the beginning.  Where wild book abandonment is the norm and not something you need permission for.  Where indifference rules when a book is given up because we know that a new book awaits.  If we truly want students to feel in control of their reading identities then giving them the choice over which book to read is the very least we must do.

Book truths.  If we do not know what we are up against, then we can never change their minds.  This has been a mantra of mine since I started asking my students all sorts of things about their education.  So every year, and throughout the year, we continuously discuss how we feel about reading (and writing).  I never dismiss their truths, nor try to correct them.  It is not my job to tell them how they should feel, but it is my job to hopefully create a better experience for them.  I cannot do that well if students do not trust me, trust the community, and trust themselves and also trust the fact that perhaps how they feel about reading right now, if it is negative in any way, is something that can be changed.  (Yes, growth mindset at work here).  So ask them how they really feel and then truly listen, because it is when we listen, we can actually do something about it.

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Student post-it’s cover our whiteboard, our very first discussion of why we like reading or not from Friday.

 

Book Tasks.  Just Friday I was asked how many book summaries we would do this year.  I must have looked perplexed, because another student quickly added, “You know, write a summary every time we finish a book?”  I assured them that while we would work on summarizing, it would not be on every book, nor even books mostly.  Instead we discussed what we want to do when we finish a book; discuss with others, pass it on, perhaps forget all about it.  We must give our students control over what they do with a book once it has been finished.  We must allow them to explore ways to communicate their emotions with a book and certainly still develop as thinkers.  I keep thinking how I want our students to have choices every few weeks as we advance our reading; review, conversations, written ponderings, perhaps a summary, perhaps a video.  The point is, I am not sure at this point what we shall do once we finish a book because it depends on what the students would like to do.  I do not ever want to implement a task that makes a child slow down their reading or stop it altogether just because the task attached to it is horrific in their eyes.  So when we plan our reading tasks make sure that the long-term effects are not unwanted.  Make sure that it actually plays into our bigger picture; students who actually like to read, and does not harm this.

Book Selection.  While choice is of utmost importance, so is the way books are selected.  Too often we schedule in book shopping time for when it is convenient to us, forgetting that all students need books at different times.  Selecting a book is a also something that must be taught, even in middle school, because many students still have a hard time finding a book.  We therefore discuss how to bookshop, which yes, includes, judging a book by its cover, and then we take the time it takes.  If we really want students to wander among great books then we must give them time for that wandering and we must embrace the social aspect that comes along with it.  After all it is this book loving community that should sustain student reading after they have left our classrooms.

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How many students would say the exact same thing?

Book Access.  While I cannot continue to purchase books at the rate I have been due to a change in our household, I know that one of the biggest reasons many of our students end up identifying as readers is because of the sheer volume of books they have access to both in our classroom library and in our school library.  Kids need books at their finger tips at all times.  Much like they must have time to book shop when they need it, they also need to be able to book shop right in our classrooms.  When a child is obviously lost, we or other classmates can jump in.  When a child is only pretending to bookshop we can offer guidance.  We cannot control how many books our students go home to, but we can make sure that whenever they are in our classrooms; the books are plentiful.

Book Time.  Providing students time to read in our classes is one of the biggest ways we can signal to students that reading really matters.  After all, it is what we give our time to that must be the most important.  So whether it is only 10 minutes, like I provide every day, our a longer amount of time; time for reading in class is essential.  Otherwise, how will we ever know that they are truly reading because anyone can forge a reading log.  The time for reading should be just that, not time for tasks or post-its.  Not time for partner discussions or writing.  Reading, in all its glorious quiet.  In all its glorious discovery.

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While the above areas may seem so commonsense, perhaps it is their commonsense-ness that makes us forget to implement them all.  It seems so obvious and yet… how many of us have told a child what to read (I have!).  How many of us have asked students to create task upon task after they finished a book (I have!).  How many of us have asked students to bookshop at a certain time and for a certain amount of time and wondered why they came up empty-handed (I have!).  The point is really that we have the choice to empower our students.  That we have the choice to show our students that their reading identity and developing it is a major part of our curriculum even if the standard does not cover it.  Even if the test does not measure it.  Because we know that at the end of the day we are not just teaching students that should be college and career ready, but instead are teaching human beings that should grow as human beings in our classrooms.  I may not be able to change every child’s mind when it comes to books and reading, but I will go in there every day trying, because my hope will always that they too will someday cry when they realize that a series has ended.

I am currently working on a new literacy book.  While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher.  The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge.  So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

I’ve Had Enough – No More Public Behavior Management Systems

When I was a 5th grade teacher, my classroom was the very last one before the buses.  Every day, all of the school’s students would pass by and inevitably some of those students and I would strike up a conversation.  Day after day, a little kindergartener would tell me about his day, his shoes, his new fish, or whatever else popped into his mind.  One day, he saw me and beamed,”Guess what, Mrs. Ripp!”  “What?” I asked.  “Peter was on yellow today!”  He told this news as if it was the biggest gift, excitement spilling from his little body.  Momentarily confused, because wasn’t this child’s name distinctly not Peter, it finally dawned on me; he was talking about another student.  “Oh yeah?” I said.  “Yes, Mrs. Ripp, it’s exciting, he hasn’t been on yellow all year…”  It was November.  My heart dropped.

Here was a kindergarten student who every single day so far of the year had been on red. Who every day had their behavior dissected in front of the rest of the class.   Whose classroom identity was being distinctly shaped by poor decisions and whose biggest identifier was his behavior.  I can only imagine what my kindergarten friend would tell his parent every day about Peter.

And that is the thing.  As a parent, as another teacher, as someone who is outside of your classroom community, I should not be able to see which child is having a bad day.  I should not be able to walk into your room and see the aftermath of something that did not happen in front of me.  That is a personal matter between the child, the teacher, and that child’s parents.  Why do we seem to forget that every time we hang a behavior chart, display our cups, or even use Class Dojo publicly?

Why do we make our classrooms that are supposed to function on trust and support and turn them into halls of public shame for some kids?  Where is the outrage?  Or do parents not even know?

I get that there are kids that need behavior system, I have some of those kids too, but those behavior systems should center on privacy.  Should center on knowing the child.  Should center on the fact that we are dealing with another human being, that yes, may make poor decisions upon poor decisions, but they are still somebody’s child.  If we are looking for long-term change then that will never start with public shame, but it certainly ends there.

When we use public behavior management systems, we tell those children that school will never be a place where they will succeed.  We put them under an unattainable microscope and then wonder why they rebel.  We watch for the smallest infraction and then come down hard, making sure that they know who is in control, who holds the power, but did they really ever forget that?  And sure, for some kids it will make a change, for some kids it will take one down clip, one stick moved, one lost point and they will never do that behavior again because they have been embarrassed sufficiently.  Is that what we want to shape the behavior of our children?  But if we already know by the start of a day, which children will probably be on red or yellow, which child will already have a bad day, then why do we need to make it public?  Why make that a self-fulfilling prophecy?  Instead, we should be wondering how our school seems to not be working, and what do we need to change?

Today I was asked what I would use instead of a classroom behavior system or Class Dojo?  My answer; common sense and kindness.  Patience, communication, and yes, even private plans.  No child deserves to be publicly humiliated day upon day, they deserve better than this.  We can do better.

PS:  Here is a link to all of my posts talking about what you can do instead.

A Most Important Question

 

http---www.pixteller.com-pdata-t-l-281535.jpgAsking my students to reflect, to give feedback, to set goals and try to peek into their minds has been a mission of mine for the last many years.  The questions I ask change, but the purpose does not; to create a better educational experience for them.  To create a classroom they actually want to be a part of.  To find out how I can change so that I can be a better teacher.

For all of the questions I have asked, and it has been a lot so far,  there is one that stands out.  One that has given me the most significant answers.  One that has led me to question myself and what I focus on in the classroom, day after day, student upon student.

And it is one of the simplest ones indeed.

What do you wish I would notice?

 

Tucked at the end of the survey, when they are already thinking, when they have already shared.

Some write nothing, some say I am noticing what I need to.  But then there are the others, those whose answers always stop me, change me, and sometimes even keep me up at night.

I wish Mrs. Ripp would notice how hard I am trying.

I wish she would notice that I am funny.

I wish she would notice how tired I a.

How I need help.

How I don’t know what to say.

How shy I am.

And I am grateful for their answers, for their faith in me to now begin to notice so that I can be better.  So that we can be better.  So that school can be about them again, just the way it was meant to be.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.  Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.

The Five Tenets of Personalized Learning

Cross-posted from the Corwin Connect Blog.

I did not know what I was doing when I decided to change the way I taught. I did not know that somewhere out in the education world there was already a term floating around for some of the ideas I had for change, a term that would capture so many of my ideas in one. It was not until a few years of blogging about the changes I had made that someone left a comment on my blog suggesting I learn more about personalizing learning because it seemed like that is what I was talking about. That day, as I googled the term I realized that in my endeavor to create passionate classroom, I had indeed been personalizing learning for all of my students. I was seeing them all as individuals and trying to cater our multi-faceted classroom to fit all of their needs; personalization at its core.

Yet, now when I see all of the discussion of personalized learning, I do not really recognize the term anymore. Over time the term has become associated with technology-laden, self-paced learning, preferably on a device, with little adult teaching and much more student autonomy. While I recognize the inherent good in those components, those are not the powerful aspects of personalized learning and I worry what will happen to those that attempt to personalize learning if they think this is all it is. Because personalizing a child’s learning is so much more than a device, or even a student figuring things out by themselves. Instead it is about knowing your students so well that you can help them navigate their learning journey. That your students have ample opportunity to find out how they learn best and then implement this knowledge as they master the curriculum we have to cover. It means that every child has voice in what they do and that the teacher knows their students well enough to help them grow.

When I wrote my book, Empowered Schools, Empowered Students, as well as Passionate Learners, I kept thinking about the type of environment that I would have thrived in as a child and that my own children would thrive in now. I kept coming back to a few tenets that used to be a part of personalized learning but seems to have gotten lost in the powerful PR campaign of Personalized Learning in 2015. Those tenets are so simple that we often forget to plan for them or even consider them as we craft our curriculum.

The five tenets of personalized learning:

  1. Student Voice.

So much of what we do is about promoting the voice of our students and yet while we ask the world to listen to what our students have to say, we often forget to listen ourselves. Therefore, for any personalized learning journey to be successful, we must start to ask the tough questions. I ask my students what they dislike about school, what they dislike about the subject I teach. I ask them when they started disliking school and why. It is not just to have students feel validated in their emotions, it is so I can work with the demons they bring into our learning environment. If a child dislikes school because they feel powerless then I can combat that dislike by giving them power back. If a child dislikes school because they find it irrelevant well then that becomes my mission for change. If we do not ask our students the tough questions, and also figure out what part we play in their disengagement, then we cannot change it, we cannot personalize. So the true journey into personalized learning begins with getting to know your students really well and then acting on the information they tell you.

  1. Student Choice.

Choice, of course, is a must in any type of class or curriculum, and yet choice to some means chaos or that every child is doing their own thing. Choice can vary depending on the day, on the task, on the curriculum to conquer. Choice does not mean that everything needs to be a free-for-all but instead that choice is always present throughout the day. Choice starts with choice in learning environment. It is time to stop dictating where students sit in the classroom. It is time to stop dictating that all student sit while learning. Choice involves how they learn something, so for some that may mean by listening to a lecture, by working with a partner, by using technology to uncover information. Students must be exposed to many ways of learning so they can discover how to navigate all of the ways, as well as determine how they learn best. Choice also becomes in how they show mastery. I always have a laid out path for students, as well as one where they build their own. Students needs change and so their show of mastery has to change as well. Finally, there must be choice in when they show mastery. Children learn at different rates and so we must find ways within our curriculum to allow for re-application of content if a child had not mastered a standard earlier. Yes, there can be deadlines and cut-off dates, but please allow a child to circle back to a previous standard if they have grown in it.

  1. Student Planning.

This is one of the biggest things for me when I think of personalizing learning. We cannot plan our lessons in isolation anymore, at least, not all of the time. We can certainly be the gatekeepers of where we need to end up and we can also bring our ideas to the table, but at some point, please allow for students to plan with you. It is simple yet so powerful when we discuss our learning goals and then plan together how we will reach them. I have always been inspired by the ideas that my students have brought to the table, as well as been educated on how students learn best. You do not have to do it all of the time, but take the chance and ask students how they would like to cover something, I guarantee you will be surprised at just how much wherewithal the students will have as they work through this process with you, as well as the increased engagement and buy-in simply because they crafted part of the lesson.

  1. Student Reflection.

When I moved to 7th grade, I remember feeling the rush of the curriculum constantly. With only 45 minutes to teach, and oh so much to cover, there was no way we would ever have time to reflect; yet, I discovered the true power of reflection on the days where my lessons were met with disdain. It is easy to dismiss an eye roll or a groan, but when a majority of a classroom participates in such displays, it is our cue to stop and ask why. So reflection became a natural tool for us in 7th grade as we personalized the curriculum that we had to cover. I had to find out how my students felt they were doing. I had to find out what their path forward would be, and that started with a journal and a prompt. Sometimes rather than a written reflection we would speak; as a group, in partnerships or one on one with me. The prompts did not change much throughout the years; how are you doing, what have you learned, what are you working on now? And yet as the conversations grew, so did their understanding of what they needed and where they had to grow. Personalization to me means that a child knows how they learn best and that is not something I can tell them. I can offer them hints and I can point out things they may have missed, but at some point during our very busy days, reflection has to be done so that students can decide their own path.

  1. Student Action.

This final piece is one that gets a lot of attention it seems because this is where personalized learning becomes a thing of beauty; when our students start to change the world. When our students make, create, and have authentic purposes. Yet, student action, to me, is an inward piece as well. Yes, I want students who have a voice in the global education debate, that is why they blog, but I also want students who know how to advocate for themselves as human beings, and as learners. I want students who can successfully navigate tricky conversations and come out feeling like their voice was heard and respected. I want students who when they see a problem, do not just think about it, they do something about it. Whether that problem is a global one or a personal one. So involving students in action, setting up situations where they can see the impact they may have, guiding them through tough conversations, becomes part of personalized learning as well. I have realized that part of my job as a teacher is to help students discover the tools they already have to help them learn best, even if they are faced with an environment that allows for little personalization. I need to help them discover what they can do to make it better for themselves and for others. I need to help them see that their words have power as well as their actions.

So if you are starting on a journey of personalized learning, keep these tenets in mind. Sure, add on the technology but do not make it the focal point. That is not the point of personalizing, however, it can enhance it. Personalizing learning is the key to keeping students engaged and curious, but it also means that there is not one system to follow. Instead, spend the time to truly discover who your students are and help them find their path. Be the teacher that made a difference, not just because you cared about them, but because you taught them how they could be better learners. Our jobs have never been just about covering curriculum and personalizing learning reminds us of that.

If you are looking for a great book club to join to re-energize you in January, consider the Passionate Learners book club on Facebook.  We kick off January 10th.